MINDFULNESS AND INNER BEAUTY

A mindfulness student recently experienced her body as beautiful during a body scan in class.  You may already have a positive self-image and feel good about your body. You may consider your body to be “the temple of the Holy Spirit.” Or you may have a negative body image, even hating your body. Whether you love your body or hate it, you can benefit from the body scan, a foundational practice from mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR).

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MINDFUL SELF-COMPASSION

Your compassionate human desire to take good care of others is critical to the well-being of your family, friends, co-workers and community – and taking good care of yourself is the foundation for your care of everyone else.  However, it is sadly true that we often take better care of others than we do of ourselves. It’s as if we need a new Golden Rule: Do unto yourself as you do unto others. We would never say or do to someone else some of the things we say and do to ourselves.

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MINDFULNESS FOR SENIORS

You and I have two primary modes of mental activity: the doing mode and the being mode. Although we are called human beings, we spend the majority of our time in the doing mode rather than the being mode.  Your “doing” mode is highly prized in our culture for schooling, work and career. It demonstrates your mastery and command of detail, data, thinking, intellect and your goal-oriented ability to get things done. We depend heavily on the doing mode to take care of all our daily affairs at home and work,….

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LOVING KINDNESS: A HEART PRACTICE

You experience the breadth of your emotions in your heart. Your heart is where you feel the love for your romantic partner, dear friends and family, children, pets and nature. Those who have the experience of holding their newborn child or grandchild for the first time often report a feeling in the heart unlike anything they have ever known or even considered possible. We feel the grief and loss of loved ones in our hearts as well. We even have palpable, heartfelt “driveway moments” listening to stories on the radio that move us deeply and connect us emotionally to people we don’t even know. Research has also identified anger, rage and hostility as emotional toxins that increase our risk of heart attack and death.


This normal physiological experience of deep emotions in the area of the anatomical heart is part of the emerging science of heart-brain-emotion interactions sometimes referred to as neurocardiology. While much of this field is properly concerned with disease, a growing body of research concerns the health benefits of positive psychological states, emotions, behaviors and attitudes, such as loving kindness.


Luckily, you can actively cultivate attributes of the heart, including loving kindness. Modern medical and psychological research is increasingly suggesting cultivation of heart qualities is associated with positive health outcomes. Regularly practicing loving kindness toward yourself and others can result in increased life purpose, social support, decreased illness and depression symptoms and increased life satisfaction.  

Getting started.

To begin, give yourself the great gift of five to 10 minutes of self-care. Any position will do – sitting, reclining or lying down are usually most recommended – with eyes open or closed. Ask other family to give you some privacy and turn off the phone. Having a pet nearby may be distracting OR may actually connect you to your heart and your intention to be kind.


Intention.

As with any important activity or behavior, you should begin with an intention to keep you aligned with your heart qualities, values, purpose and meaning. An example might be, “I am practicing loving kindness … for myself … for other people … for animals and plants” or any other object of your heart’s kindness.


Paying attention.

Knowing our normal mind is a wandering mind, you may notice sounds, memories, plans, restlessness and fatigue distract you during your practice. That moment we notice this distraction is a very important moment. Rather than being harsh or self-critical, we simply notice the distraction and gently escort the

attention back to the practice of loving kindness. We view the distractions as a normal, predictable part of the practice.


Kindness for yourself.

With your attention on the heart center, the center of your chest, perhaps placing your hands over your heart, say to yourself these phrases, repeating each one several times: “May I be safe … May I be happy … May I be well … May I be peacefully at ease … ”


Kindness for beloved other people or animals.

If it feels right, you may extend loving kindness to specific people, such as a beloved person, someone you hardly know at all – even someone you find difficult – saying, “May you be safe … May you be happy … May you be well … May you be peacefully at ease.”


Anywhere, anytime.

Over time, you may find yourself using these heart phrases at home, at work, while driving, shopping and walking the dog. It only takes remembering, and you are more likely to remember if you practice daily, even for a couple of minutes.


Whether you are healthy or have a chronic medical condition, practicing loving kindness may enhance your physical and emotional well- being and relationships. It may even extend your life.


Resources:


DR. JOHN PATTERSON


Dr. John Patterson is past president of the Kentucky Academy of Family Physicians and is board certified in family medicine and integrative holistic medicine. He is on the family practice faculty at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine and the University of Louisville School of Medicine, Saybrook University’s School of Mind Body Medicine (San Francisco) and the Center for Mind Body Medicine (Washington, D.C.). He operates the Mind Body Studio in Lexington, where he offers integrative medicine consultations